Michael Anastasi and the First Amendment

April 30, 2022

Legal scholars explain that the First Amendment has never been static, that it is open to interpretation, and that interpretations have changed over time. Nevertheless, we are currently in the midst of a particularly acute stage of interpretational contestation. The 14th annual Robert and Bonnie Cone Hooper Plenary at the CSC will explore what it looks like on the ground on a daily basis to engage changes to one of the basic freedoms enumerated in the First Amendment: freedom of the press.

From his vantage in the trenches, Michael A. Anastasi, Region Editor for USA TODAY Network South and Vice President and Editor of The Tennessean, will describe changes that he has seen and tell how he's responded and adjusted to them, offering insights into the trajectory, and present cautions and opportunities for the future.

Under Anastasi's leadership, USA TODAY Network newsrooms across the South region won a prestigious journalism award last year honoring the project that explores the long shadow of racism in the American South.

"The Confederate Reckoning," a multimedia series powered by dozens of journalists working across five southern states, received the grand prize from the Robert F. Kennedy Book and Journalism Awards. The annual awards recognize outstanding domestic and international reporting on issues of human rights and social justice.

The project traced the complicated history of the Confederacy from historic battlefields of the 1860s to contemporary classrooms and halls of government.

Starting in the summer of 2020, the network published more than 35 pieces of content tied to the project. More than 29 journalists - including teams at The Tennessean in Nashville, The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, The Knoxville News Sentinel, The Montgomery Advertiser in Alabama, The Daily Advertiser in Louisiana and The Clarion Ledger in Mississippi - contributed.

Their work included frank assessments of Confederate monuments that became flashpoints in the national reckoning over racism. As statues toppled and tensions flared, the network wrote about the monuments' origins as emblems of white supremacist ideology at the height of the Jim Crow era.

Anastasi is no stranger to the CSC, having participated in multiple sessions over the years and even flying to Lubbock, TX to David Brooks at the 2019 CSC. He is a man of deep faith, a member at the Otter Creek Church of Christ, and a leader among his peers in journalism. He earned a Master of Arts in Leadership and Public Service from Lipscomb University and while in Los Angeles led his team to a Pulitzer Prize in Local Reporting (2015).

Elizabeth R. Smith will convene the session,. Smith is assistant professor of Communication at Pepperdine University, Director of Pepperdine Graphic Media and has partnered with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library on the topics of news literacy and understanding the spread of fake new.

She will have an exchange with Anastasi and moderate conversation that follows his presentation, "Freedom of the Press: Interpretational Contestation Engaged from the Trenches."

Anastasi and Mark Russell
Russell and Anastasi with RFK Award

"Given the year that was 2020, and the extraordinary journalism that was produced across the country, what a profound honor it is to be recognized with this award, which recognizes reporting highlighting human rights, social justice and the power of individual action," said Michael A. Anastasi, editor of the USA TODAY Network South and vice president and editor of The Tennessean. "I couldn't be more proud of our team and the dozens of journalists across five states who contributed to the project."

"The reporting was a deep dive into the painful, and at times poignant, history of the South, its institutions and people." Mark Russell, the project editor and executive editor of The Commercial Appeal, said. "We used the storytelling to show how some contemporary issues in education, housing, wealth disparity and poverty have their roots in the often state-sponsored practices that defined the Southern states as well as the rest of the nation."

Click here tot explore The Tennessean's Confederate Reckoning project.